The Physical Demands of Skiing

Welcome back, in our last post we explored what is fitness?  We broke it down into its 4 basic components (flexibility, speed, strength and stamina), and then looked deeper into these areas to briefly explore how these relate to skiing.  From this we found that skiing requires you to be fit in many areas.  With this basic knowledge we are now going to investigate what sport science tells about the key areas to focus on.

In a great review article called The Physiology of alpine skiing by Turnbell et al (2009), the common consensus is that Skiing challenges all these areas of physical fitness, and these areas can be broken down into 3 main areas.

  1. Anaerobic Capacity
  2. Aerobic Recovery
  3. Strength, Balance, Agility and Coordination Combo


Anaerobic Capacity

Top of the list is anaerobic capacity, research has found that during a high level ski performance skiers generate energy via anaerobic means (Turnbull et al, 2009).  This means energy production was largely done without the use of oxygen.

This make sense when you think about it, for example no matter what your level is during a performance run (skiing hard down a challenging run) often our runs only last around 1 to 2 minutes before we are either cruising (and therefore no longer performing) or stopping to catch our breath / get a lift / or ran out of slope.  This can be understood better if you looked at the energy synthesis continuum diagram below,

The important thing to look at here is how much we rely on the anaerobic energy system (the blue lactic acid line in diagram) within our performance runs.  It reaches its peak at about 1 minute and then trails off.  Think about how your performance ski runs fit into this continuum time wise, then you will see its importance…..

In one study it has been reported that 65% of energy production was done via anaerobic systems, which is why we all feel our legs burning at the end of a long run!

All this means we should be focusing on training for strength endurance rather than pure cardio.

Aerobic Recovery

Although we should be focusing on strength endurance we also have to remember that once we finish a hard run we have a oxygen debt to pay back in your leg muscles, interest rates can be painfully high!  It has been shown that the fitter we are aerobically the faster our recovery times can be, which means we can squeeze extra runs in and get our money’s worth out of our lift passes.

The good news is that when strength endurance training is done correctly it has been shown to also improve cardio vascular fitness (Gaitanos et al, 1993), killing two birds with one stone.  A simple example of strength endurance training for skiing would be bouts of squatting exercises with low/medium resistance with a high rep range or time interval like that of a performance ski run.

So GOOD NEWS!!, this means you don’t have to spend hours pounding the roads running and damaging your skiing joints to get fit for skiing.

Strength, Balance, Agility and Coordination Combo

Strength is an important aspect to skiing, however strength without any balance, agility or coordination is useless to skiing.  Research has found skiers do show higher levels of leg strength, especially in slower leg movements and during eccentric muscle contractions (muscle lengthening under tension), but there was no correlation between absolute gross strength and performance amongst elite skiers (Berg et al, 1995. Berg and Eiken, 1999).

So being able to lift the heaviest thing in the gym won’t necessarily help without good levels of technical skill.  Therefore, getting fit and ready for the winter is only half of the journey, you still need to put the time into working on your skiing technique.  MORE GOOD NEWS, we can help with this too, book some private ski lessons with us!!


So to summaries our fitness training programs over the summer time should be focusing on these 3 areas:

  1. Anaerobic capacity – Strength endurance training, High rep range, low (ish) weight or working to a similar time interval as your performance runs (1-2mins).


  1. Aerobic Recovery – Keep a good level of Cardio fitness to aid recovery but don’t focus solely on this, good strength endurance training can help to maintain this.


  1. Strength, Balance, Agility and Coordination combo – Avoid fixed path weight machines. Focus on exercises with slower eccentric (lengthening under tension) contractions that also challenge your ability to coordinate your balance and agility.


  1. Book yourself some pre season lessons and winter lessons to apply your fitness!



In our next post we will put some more meat on the bones of the 4 points summarized above, giving you ideas of routines / exercises your can do at very little cost.  Then you will be all set to get ready for the winter.


until then…